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Google+ Hangout: Delving into the Cudahy scandal

August 30, 2012 | 12:06 pm

The Cudahy corruption scandal takes center stage in a Google+ Hangout today at 12:30 p.m. PDT.

A Times story Thursday revealed the back story of George Perez, who went from janitor to fired city manager in the small southeast L.A. County town of Cudahy. Perez, who became a powerful figure in the city, appears to be at the heart of a scandal in which three city officials have pleaded guilty to what federal prosecutors described as deeply rooted corruption.

Times reporter Jeff Gottlieb will join city editor Shelby Grad to discuss Perez and the corruption scandal in Cudahy during the hangout. We invite you to join in on the conversation by posting comments below or onto The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

The Times' Gottlieb and reporters Hector Becerra and Ruben Vives wrote Thursday:

George Perez started at the bottom of Cudahy city government, cleaning toilets as a $6.50-an-hour janitor.

He was ambitious, though, and in eight years was elected to the City Council. Six years later, with no college education or management training, Perez was running the southeast L.A. County town as city manager.

He became the embodiment of power in the working-class immigrant city along the 710 Freeway. His up-from-the-bootstraps story made him a hero to some — a kind of "Mr. Cudahy," with a tattoo of the city seal on his right leg to prove it. He served as emcee at town hall meetings, where door prizes such as blenders, fans and heaters were raffled off. When people came to City Hall to complain, Perez sometimes met them personally.

But now, Cudahy is mired in scandal, and Perez appears to be in the center of it. Three city officials have pleaded guilty to what federal prosecutors described as deeply rooted corruption. Perez has not been charged, but court documents repeatedly refer to a top city official identified as "G.P." orchestrating much of the alleged wrongdoing. Two law enforcement sources said "G.P." is George Perez.

Federal documents paint Cudahy as a place where bribes became routine, elections were fixed on Perez's orders, city workers acted as gun-packing bodyguards, and the city manager sent underlings to bring illegally obtained pain pills back to City Hall. They describe Perez being chauffeured to a Denny's restaurant to pick up bribes.

Many residents said the allegations did not surprise them. They said that despite his populist persona, rumors of corruption long flowed from Cudahy City Hall, where nothing seemed to happen without Perez's blessing.

"Everything had to go through him," said Martin Fuentes, 37, a longtime Cudahy resident who knows Perez. "You had to talk to George first if you wanted to get anything done."

Perez declined to comment for this article, but in the past he strongly denied any wrongdoing. In a brief conversation outside his Hacienda Heights home, his wife, Tania, said he loved the city and said he did nothing illegal.


The rise and fall of 'Mr. Cudahy'

Feds detail scale of graft in Cudahy

Ex-Bell official seeks $837,000 payout